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"The Eschatological Context of Paul's Encounter with
the Jewish Community in Rome and Accusations of an
Anti-Jewish Bias in Acts"
Rev. Msgr. Richard G. Henning, STD
Professor of Biblical Theology
Seminary of the Immaculate Conception
Huntington NY
June 2009
In the mid twentieth century, western society and culture began a process of selfexamination following the trauma of war and genocide. In particular, the murderous campaign of
the Nazi regime against the Jewish people raised uncomfortable questions about the origins and
extent of anti-Semitism in the western world. While the Nazi ideology was atheistic and even
anti-Christian, questions also arose regarding the participation of believing Christians in the
machinery of genocide and regarding Europe’s tragic history of persecution of Jews by Christian
individuals and communities. Even if Christianity did not, and could not, endorse Nazi crimes,
had its own past prepared the ground for the terrible harvest of death?
In this process of self-examination, students of the Bible have asked similar questions of
the biblical traditions. Strong rhetoric, critical of Israel and the Jews, is found in both the Old and
New Testament. Over previous centuries, individuals and communities cited such passages as
cause or justification for juridical and non-juridical actions against Jewish minority communities
living amidst Europe’s Christian majority. While acknowledging the facts of this tragic past, an
important question remains regarding the use of such biblical passages: do such claims distort the
biblical text, reading anti-Jewish bias into the text, or do they draw upon an anti-Jewish bias that
is constitutive to the text?
Catholic teaching holds the biblical text to be the inspired, inerrant, Word of God,
revelatory of God’s Own Self. 1 As such, it would be odious to suggest that the biblical text could
itself encourage hatred or violence against any human community. This important doctrinal
assertion, however true it may be, does not silence the questions or accusations that arise in the
setting of the academy.
There, scholars focus on the New Testament record and its polemical rhetoric arising
from a context of debate between first century Christian communities and early Rabbinical
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 101-114.
Judaism. While acknowledging that, taken out of context, such passages have been misused to
justify immoral actions, many scholars assert that such polemic is not anti-Jewish in itself.
However, an increasing number of studies suggest that, more than mere internal religious debate,
such polemic represents early Christian anti-Jewish bias. Typically, they distinguish such
religious or philosophical bias from the racially based idea of nineteenth century anti-Semitism. 2
Some more radical observers go further, directly linking the New Testament with a racial
or ethnic bias, characterizing the problem as anti-Semitic rather than anti-Jewish. For example,
R. Reuther believed that the post-Easter convictions of the Christian Church provided the
foundation for the notion that Jews were effectively apostate in their rejection of the Christ event.
Thus, by Reuther’s reading, the New Testament presents the Jews rejecting their own salvation.
Furthermore, the ongoing existence of a non-believing Jewish community provoked Christian
anger at the Jewish participation in the death of Jesus, the conviction that the return
(conversion) 3 of the Jews would be necessary for the “wholeness” of the Christian Church, and
“twenty centuries of Christian vilification” of the Jews. 4 Likewise, the Luke-Acts commentator
J. T. Sanders claimed to find in those volumes a systematic anti-Jewish sentiment. He also linked
Luke’s polemic with twentieth century anti-Semitism observing that: “In Luke’s opinion the
world will be much better off when ‘the Jews’ get what they deserve and the world is rid of
them.” 5
Such assertions present great difficulties in the Catholic hermeneutical context. While
Catholic practice welcomes the critical analysis of the biblical texts, characterizations of the text
as racist conflict directly with the Church’s deepest convictions about the inspired Word of God.
Nor can the Catholic tradition accept proposals to amend the text in light of contemporary
concerns for religious tolerance. 6 Nevertheless, the debate need not cease with a simple
statement of Catholic doctrine. Catholic teaching on the scriptures is correct, itself inspired by
the Holy Spirit, and therefore it must be possible to meet such accusations against the text with
the methods of the academy.
In the academy, some scholars read New Testament anti-Jewish polemic as internal
debate, misinterpreted, but not biased against Jews. Others see a more sinister strain of
To distinguish anti-Jewish from anti-Semitic is not to suggest that the former is a good
thing. R. F. O’Toole defines it as “any statement or judgment which would call Christians or
anyone else to an irrational and unjust attitude of hostility against the Jews as a group or race or
against their supposed characteristics.” “Reflections on Luke’s Treatment of Jews in Luke-Acts,”
Bib 74/4 (1993): 529.
Ruether’s language in this regard is quite polemical; she goes so far as to suggest that
Christian attempts to convert Jews are the equivalent of a Christian “final solution.” “The Faith
and Fratricide Discussion: Old Problems and New Dimensions,” in AntiSemitism and the
Foundations of Christianity (ed. A. T. Davies; New York: Paulist Press, 1979), 250.
Ruether, 237-240, 248.
J. T. Sanders, The Jews in Luke-Acts (London: SCM Press, Ltd., 1987), xvi, 317.
N. A. Beck, Mature Christianity: The Recognition and Repudiation of the Anti-Jewish
Polemic of the New Testament (Philadelphia: Crossroad, 1994), 166-247.
constitutive bias. This study proposes to look at this debate with regard to Luke-Acts and suggest
that Luke’s eschatological context may offer evidence for the former.
Should Luke-Acts be considered anti-Jewish? 7
Luke-Acts is a two-volume work, comprising 1/3 of the New Testament. It is notable for
both its respectful depiction of Judaism and its strong polemical language directed at Jews. The
last scene in Acts, Paul’s encounter with Jewish leaders in Rome, is of paramount importance in
the debate about an anti-Jewish bias. Do Paul’s words and actions represent the final and
definitive rejection of the Jewish people? Before examining the passage itself, it is important to
consider the overall setting of Luke-Acts and the debates that continue regarding its attitude
towards Judaism and the Jews.
A. The ambivalence of Luke-Acts towards the Jews
Luke-Acts portrays an ambivalent relationship between Judaism and Christianity. On the
one hand, Luke strives to place faith in Jesus in its Jewish context. His infancy narrative is filled
with the atmosphere of the LXX and with pious Jewish characters. Jewish customs are presented
in a positive light and the Temple remains a place of prayer even into the early days of
Christianity. One of Luke’s recurring themes is that of prophecy and fulfillment as he repeatedly
points out that the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the fulfillment of God’s
promises to Israel. Even the mission to the Gentiles is not an innovation but a part of God’s plan
for Israel. The Pharisees, portrayed so negatively in the other Synoptics, exhibit sympathy to the
Christian message. Likewise, large numbers of Jews respond with conversion to the Apostolic
preaching in Jerusalem. Thus, the polemical assertions are not directed at all Jews, but only those
who refuse to be convinced. 8
On the other hand, Luke’s narrative also depicts the opposition of the Jewish leadership
in harsh terms. Jesus’ ministry begins at Nazareth where the pericope ends with rejections and
opposition. Luke apparently sees a recurrence of the obstinacy of Israel found in the
Deuteronomistic history. Just as Jesus’ ministry meets opposition and persecution, so the Jewish
leadership opposes the early Church in Acts. Even Jews who are Christian believers cause
Although Reuther and Sanders take the radical position that Luke-Acts may be
considered anti-Semitic, the language remains anachronistic. Anti-Semitism is a racial prejudice
with nineteenth century European roots. For the purposes of this paper, the question regarding
Luke will consider whether the volumes are anti-Jewish – namely, do they exhibit a theological
bias against the Jewish faith or people.
While the polemical language found in Luke-Acts offends the sensibilities of
contemporary culture, such language was common in the ancient world. Jews and Christians
used such language in theological disputes. And for all its harshness, the polemic of Luke-Acts is
mild when compared with the inter-religious polemic of his day. Contemporary examples of
such polemic are found in the work of Josephus (Against Arion 1.22 § 210; 2.6 § 68; 2.8 § 92-96;
2.13 § 138; 2.14 § 145, 148; 2.16 § 161).
difficulties for Paul’s preaching. And of course, Acts concludes with a harsh rebuke of those
Jews who have rejected Jesus. Furthermore, this rebuke is the third warning uttered by Paul that
he will turn away form his practice of preaching first to the synagogue and focus on his mission
to the Gentiles who “will listen.” 9
Critical readings of Acts and its ambivalence towards the Jews
Modern biblical criticism began in a largely Protestant context, where the Letter to the
Romans had an enormous influence. At the time of the Protestant revolt, Romans (with its
dichotomy between law and grace) was perceived to address the relationship between Judaism
and Paul’s new Christian faith rather than its original setting of a dispute within Christianity
between believers with different perspectives about Mosaic observance. Consequently, most
early modern commentators took Luke-Acts to have a similar purpose of distinguishing the new
Christian faith from its Jewish roots. This theological opposition to Judaism (and the related
conviction that Catholicism had become likewise “legalistic”) meant that commentators did not
see any need to ask questions about the polemical language in Luke-Acts. 10
The earliest systematic consideration of the conflict in Luke-Acts came with the work of
F. C. Baur (1792-1860) and the “Tübingen School.” Baur worked to distinguish the
interpretation in faith of scriptural texts from the historical analysis of the “real” historical events
behind them. This distinction and the application of evolving historical methods to the text
resulted in very new and different interpretation of texts and the reliability of the events they
recount. With regard to Acts, the Tübingen School claimed to have discovered a pervasive
struggle between Judaizers and Gentile converts in the early Church. The discovery of this
Tendenz shaped Baur’s work in the history and theology of the New Testament. Although Baur
did not write a commentary on Acts, the Tendenz notion had implications for Acts. Baur and his
followers worked with the assumption that Acts was primarily a polemical work in the context of
the debate between the Jewish and Gentile parties. 11 The Tendenzkritik approach did not endure
long, for its weakness lay in its reading of history. When historical studies undermined the claim
that there was such a pervasive dispute between Jewish and Gentile Christianity, the conclusions
of these critics lost their foundation.
Although contemporary scholarship no longer accepts the solution of the Tendenz critics,
it has yet to reach a consensus with regard to the possibility of an anti-Jewish bias in Luke-Acts.
The positions taken by commentators depend upon their view of the ambivalence in Luke-Acts
towards the Jews. Some emphasize the manifold positive indications in the text and argue that
while Luke-Acts uses polemical language, it is not anti-Jewish, but respectful of Jewish faith and
the Jewish people. The polemical language does not intend to dismiss, but to convince Jews of
The first announcement of this shift occurs in 13:46, the second in 18:6, and the final
announcement in 28:28 on the heels of a quote from Isaiah about a stubborn people who will not
perceive God’s action.
J. B. Tyson, Luke, Judaism, and the Scholars (Columbia, S.C.: University of South
Carolina Press, 1999), 145-46.
P. C. Hodgson, The Formation of Historical Theology, A Study of Ferdinand Christian
Baur (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), 197-201.
the authenticity of the Christian message. On the other hand, many scholars, to varying degrees
and for a variety of reasons, view the polemical language as evidence that the author of LukeActs wishes his reader to reject Judaism and those that cling to its traditions.
E. Haenchen is among the more influential in the latter category. He believed that Luke
wished to defend the mission to the Gentiles without the law. Luke’s apologia for this mission
involved strong criticism of Jewish stubbornness and rejection. 12 Haenchen argued that the text
revealed God’s will in this matter – even Peter and Paul must be driven to the Gentile mission by
the will of God. The divinely willed Jewish rejection of the gospel allowed the Christian mission
to reject the law and the Jews and turn to the Gentiles. For Haenchen, the three announcements
of Paul’s intention to go to the Gentiles served to highlight Jewish stubbornness. By this reading,
the third announcement can only be the end of God’s blessing on Israel and the divine and
ecclesial rejection of the Jews. 13
F. F. Bruce was also convinced that Luke-Acts, and Acts in particular, gave evidence of
strong anti-Jewish bias. He went so far as to suggest that Luke knowingly exploited anti-Jewish
public feeling in the Roman world in the wake of the Jewish revolt. 14
H. Conzelmann was more circumspect in his claims, although he too read anti-Jewish
bias. He saw the positive portrayals of Jews and the Jewish faith as part of Luke’s apologetic
interest in demonstrating the continuity between Israel and the Christian Church. Conzelmann
cited the common understanding that Luke-Acts proposes a schema of history in three divisions:
the age of Israel, the all important time of Jesus, and the age of the Church as recounted in Acts.
The positive picture of Israel is in the past. By the time of Acts, the age of a new Israel has
dawned and the text gives the impression that the mission to the Jews is at an end, “hopeless”
even, by the last chapter and Paul’s harsh words. 15
The mid-twentieth century French commentator, J. Jervell, was an important voice
arguing for a positive Lukan attitude toward Judaism and the Jews. Jervell resolved the
ambivalence of the Lukan portrait of Judaism by positing a division that occurs in the people,
first in Luke’s Gospel in response to Jesus’ ministry and then in Acts in response to the Church
and her preaching. 16 Jervell claimed that the all-important Gentile mission did not take place as a
result of Jewish rejection, but rather Jewish acceptance. 17 The promises of God to Israel had to
be fulfilled in Jesus and only afterwards could the promise be opened to the nations. The debate
in Acts concerning Gentile converts such as Cornelius did not concern whether they should be
E. Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster
Press, 1971), 100.
Ibid. 724, 729.
F. F. Bruce, “The Acts of the Apostles: Historical Record or Theological
Reconstruction,” ANRW II.25.3 (1984), 2569-2603.
H. Conzelmann, Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles
(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), xiv, xlvi-xlvii, 227.
J. Jervell, Luke and the People of God (Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg Publishing
House, 1972), 42-43, 48-49
Ibid. 63.
brought into the faith, but how this should be accomplished. Paul, who might be called the
“hero” of the narrative, consistently addressed Jews as “brothers” and cited Jewish hopes and
beliefs (such as the resurrection) in the defense of his ministry and the gospel. 18 Jervell also
pointed to the Jewish observance found among key characters in Acts, notably Jesus (only Luke
recounts the circumcision of Jesus), Mary, Peter and Paul. Jewish piety was also to be found
among the Gentiles - as is the case with Cornelius. For Jervell, Acts portrayed a time of
judgment for Jews and Gentiles. 19 Jewish believers must acknowledge the action of God and find
their place in a new and expanded Israel as promised by the Lord. And as Jervell pointed out,
many did just that. So while Jervell acknowledged the Gentile mission as an overriding concern
in Acts, he believed that the universalism of that mission continued to hold the place of Israel in
God’s plan in special regard. 20 Although Jervell read Paul’s encounter with the Jews in Rome in
a negative light, he did not see it as a dismissal of Jews, but the indication that the mission to
Israel has already been accomplished. Even if individual Jews might yet repent, the mission to
the Jewish people had already taken place. 21
Jervell’s ideas have been very influential among those who argue against an anti-Jewish
bias in Luke-Acts. His thesis of a divided response to the gospel among Jews allows for a
reading of the polemical language as internal theological debate rather than the rejection of an
entire class of people. 22 L. T. Johnson took this view, arguing that the rhetoric is rather mild by
comparison with other models of the day and that it represented debate “between schools.” He
also proposed that the rather tiny Christian minority had no intention of demonizing the Jewish
faith or people in the Gentile world. Rather, the Christians found themselves traumatized by the
fact of Jewish rejection of the gospel and striving to make sense of the scandal. 23 Maddox, in his
analysis of the purpose of Luke-Acts, likewise suggested that the strong language emerged from
the crisis of Jewish rejection. D. Moessner examined Luke’s apparent interest in the
Deuteronomistic view of Israel’s history. The proposed editor of the books of Deuteronomy,
Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings viewed Israel’s own history as one of rebellion
and disobedience, including the frequent rejection of the prophets of the Lord. The rather bleak
portrait is made lighter by moments of repentance and the existence of faithful remnants among
the people. Moessner read the picture in Acts as fitting the pattern with an important difference.
The intervention of God in the resurrection has brought a new possibility of repentance and the
evidence that, even in the face of rejection, the promises of God will prevail. In this setting,
Luke’s polemic becomes an urgent call to the Jewish people to return to the Lord, rather than an
exclusion of the Jews from the Lord’s graces. 24 Also agreeing with Jervell’s thesis of internal
Ibid. 45, 50-51, 65.
Ibid. 61.
Ibid. 41.
Ibid. 68.
For example, this perspective is adopted by J. Fitzmyer in his Anchor Bible
Commentary on Acts. The Acts of the Apostles: A New Translation with Introduction and
Commentary (AB 31; New York: Doubleday, 1998), 521.
L. T. Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles (SP 5; Collegeville, Minn.: Glazier, 1992), 423424, 441.
D. P. Moessner, “The Ironic Fulfillment of Israel’s Glory,” in Luke-Acts and the Jewish
People (ed. J. B. Tyson; Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988), 49.
debate, M. Salmon went so far as to argue that Luke himself is Jewish, an “insider” to the debate,
and therefore incapable of being anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic. 25 In his study of the use of hoi
ioudaioi in Acts, A. Barbi also emphasized internal debate, arguing that the term itself was not
negative. Instead, the key issue was the proper response of the Jewish listener. 26
For all their influence, the contributions of Jervell and like-minded scholars have not
resolved the debate. In fact, recent decades have seen the gap between the two positions widen.
In 1984, J. T. Sanders, quoted above as holding Luke-Acts to be anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic,
published The Jews in Luke Acts. In that work, Sanders rejected any notion of a divided Israel,
arguing that Luke-Acts consistently portrayed all Jews, even those who respond positively to the
gospel “in as bad a light as possible.” 27 In the case of Paul’s encounter with the Jewish leaders in
Rome, Sanders did not acknowledge any divided response or any hope that the gospel remains
open to the Jews. Instead, he saw this last moment as the confirmation of a “Jewish essence”
presented throughout Luke-Acts. The portrait of a stubborn, rebellious people had been prepared
throughout the narrative and now found completion in another failure and Paul’s dramatic
indictment of the people. 28 Here at the end, they live up to the criticisms leveled at them
throughout the book. Even their scriptures merely demonstrated God’s will in this process and
the truth that “God’s salvation was never intended for the Jews.” 29 In a later article defending his
book against critics, Sanders used polemical language of his own, asserting that Luke-Acts
presents the Jewish people as generally “opposed to the purpose of God, as unable to understand
their own scriptures, and as both foreordained to reject and willfully rejecting their own
salvation.” 30
In his analysis of Luke-Acts, Sanders placed great emphasis on the statements found in
the speeches of Acts about Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus. These statements are
more uniformly negative and accusatory towards the Jewish leadership and people, and Sanders
believed them to represent Luke’s true perspective. Reading all of Luke-Acts through this prism,
Sanders claimed that all the positive Jewish characters or positive depictions of Jewish faith
represented Luke’s claim that the Christian community could now claim the mantle of Israel’s
special relationship with God. And Sanders observed that even Christian Jews proved themselves
troublesome as they obstructed Paul’s mission and demanded Mosaic observance. The key
question was revealed at Nazareth where Jesus’ fellow villagers rejected Him over the question
of the inclusion of the Gentiles. In Acts, Jews inside and outside the Church followed the same
pattern. 31
M. Salmon, “Insider or Outsider? Luke’s Relationship with Judaism,” in Luke-Acts and
the Jewish People (ed. J. B. Tyson; Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988), 82.
A. Barbi, “The Use and Meaning of (Hoi) Ioudaioi in Acts,” in Luke and Acts (eds. G.
O’Collins and G. Marconi; trans. M. J. O’Connell; New York: Paulist Press, 1991), 140-141.
Sanders, 16.
Ibid. 298-299.
Ibid. 81-82.
J. T. Sanders, “Who Is a Jew and Who Is a Gentile in the Book of Acts?” NTS 37/3
(1991): 436.
Sanders, 315-317.
When considering the motive of Luke for such a negative portrait of the Jews, Sanders
rejected possibilities such as emotional reaction to Jewish persecution of the early Church or a
desire to ingratiate the fledgling Christian community with the Romans. Nor was the issue one of
conflict with newly influential Rabbinical Judaism. In fact, Sanders believed the mission to the
Jews had been abandoned already for some ten to twenty years by the time Luke wrote. Instead,
he proposed that the polemic began with an internal Church argument over the Pauline question
of whether Gentile converts must keep Mosaic law. For Sanders, Luke’s passionate defense of
the Pauline perspective on the matter went beyond criticism of fellow Christians to the wholesale
rejection of the Jewish people. 32
Sander’s work has been an important contribution to the debate over Luke-Acts and the
Jews. His was the first work to systematically examine all the passages in Luke-Acts that treat of
Judaism or the Jews. The comprehensive nature of the study reveals the seriousness of the
question. Even if an individual holds to Jervell’s analysis of a mixed portrait and a divided
response, the weight of Sanders’ evidence demonstrates that Luke-Acts uses a great deal of antiJewish polemical language. Sanders’ work also helped the contemporary critic understand how
bigots could employ Luke-Acts out of context. 33 Even so, there are serious questions with regard
to Sanders methodology. First, Sanders was not disinterested in his analysis of the text. He began
with the presumption that anti-Semitism is a serious contemporary issue and that its roots are to
be found in the New Testament. Not unsurprisingly, he found that very anti-Semitism in the text
of Luke-Acts. Furthermore, his decision to use the speeches as the key to his reading weakened
his conclusions. Indeed the speeches are crucial to Acts, but his decision that they represented
Luke’s entirely negative view of Judaism lead to an inconsistent reading of the question.
Wherever Sanders found positive depictions of Judaism, he argued that they existed solely to
underline Christian legitimacy. In cases where Jewish Pharisees were sympathetic to Christianity
or large numbers of Jerusalemites repented and converted, Sanders dismissed them as an
argument directed at Christian Pharisees. Finally, the negative depictions were always presented
as the definitive rejection of Judaism and the Jewish people.
With regard to Sanders use of the speeches as the key to his thesis, F. Matera has argued
that here too Sanders was mistaken. Agreeing with Jervell’s thesis of a divided Israel, Matera
pointed out that the speeches revealed a “hidden plan of God.” Even the disciples who
announced the good news failed to understand the ministry and message of Jesus and needed
openness and repentance. The speeches presented the Jewish people as paradoxically fulfilling
God’s will in their rejection of the Messiah. Even so their crime was not a failure to recognize
His identity, but rather His innocence. Furthermore, the speeches allowed for repentance and
Ibid. 304-305, Sanders NTS, 437. It is interesting to note here that Sanders’ thesis
sounds very like the previously rejected claims of the Tendenz critics.
There is an irony in Sanders’ work in that his work begins with the desire to rid
Christianity of cause for anti-Semitism. However, in his stubborn insistence that Luke-Acts is
consistently and unrelentingly anti-Jewish he may unwittingly offer “fuel to the fire” to those
who would twist the scriptures to justify hate.
salvation. Their polemical language emerged from the seriousness of this moment of decision in
which the hidden had been made plain. 34
Sanders’ rejection of a divided Israel and his emphasis on the negative, anti-Jewish
rhetoric to be found in Acts has influenced ongoing studies of the question. S. G. Wilson agreed
with Sanders that the language emerged from internal debate over Paul’s perspective on the
Gentiles. He argued that any positive depictions of Jews were overwhelmed by the overriding
fact that they are the principal opponents of Paul and the Christian message. Wilson suggested
that the negative perspective might have emerged from a life setting similar to that of the Fourth
Gospel. 35 L. Gaston disagreed with the notion that the conflict was internal to Christianity,
arguing for conflict between Church and Synagogue. Nevertheless, he agreed with the severity of
the portrait. While acknowledging that there are positive portrayals of the Jews in Luke-Acts, he
asserted an increasing conflict in which the Jews gradually become the consistent and inveterate
enemies of the Christian message. Thus the end of the story became a moment of final rejection
of the Jews. 36
C. The importance of Acts 28 to the debate
As the above survey demonstrates, the debate concerning the perspective of Luke-Acts
towards the Jews continues. With variations in the details, the debate is largely bipolar, divided
over the question of whether the polemical rhetoric should be interpreted as internal theological
debate or as constitutively anti-Jewish. At the heart of the difference in perspectives lies the
question of the turn to the Gentiles and conflicting readings of the final scene in Acts. If Paul’s
harsh words represent a definitive end to outreach to the Jewish community, then the assertion of
an anti-Jewish perspective is strengthened. If Luke intends the reader to see the Jewish mission
as ongoing, then the rhetoric must be seen in a different light.
At present J. B. Tyson is among the most important writers to adopt the position that Acts
is a story of the rejection of the Jews, with several publications on the matter. In his reading of a
strongly anti-Jewish portrait, he highlighted the final scene in Acts 28 as evidence that the
“mission to the Jewish people has failed, and it has been terminated.” 37
F. J. Matera, “Responsibility for the Death of Jesus According to the Acts of the
Apostles,” JSNT 39 (1990): 78-79, 80-81, 88.
S. G. Wilson, “The Jews and the Death of Jesus in Acts,” in Paul and the Gospels (eds.
P. Richardson and D. Granskou; Vol. 1 of Anti-Judaism in Early Christianity; Studies in
Christianity and Judaism Number 2; Ontario, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1986),
L. Gaston Gaston, “Anti-Judaism and the Passion Narrative in Luke and Acts,” in Paul
and the Gospels (eds. P. Richardson and D. Granskou; Vol. 1 of Anti-Judaism in Early
Christianity; Studies in Christianity and Judaism Number 2; Ontario, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier
University Press, 1986), 134-135, 150-152.
J. B. Tyson “The Problem of Jewish Rejection in Acts,” in Luke-Acts and the Jewish
People (ed. J. B. Tyson; Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988), 137.
By contrast, there have also been a number of other arguments that assert the unfinished
nature of Paul’s last encounter with the Jews in Acts. T. L. Donaldson cited the “remnant
mentality” of Luke-Acts, drawn from Old Testament models as a way of understanding Luke’s
attitudes towards Israel. Just as in the past, there is moment of flux and conflict and a
competition for the allegiance of the Jewish people. Therefore Paul’s strong language in Acts 28
is a “Jewish phenomenon.” 38 R. L. Brawly also cited the LXX models of faithful remnants to
explain the strong language and the success and failure that the gospel and Paul met among Jews.
If Paul has failed to convert the Jewish community in Rome, Brawley argued that he still enjoys
partial success, evidence that Brawley cited to argue for an ongoing openness to Jews at the close
of Acts. 39 D. L. Tiede argued that Simeon’s oracle in the Lukan infancy narrative provided a way
of understanding Luke’s complex relationship with Judaism. That oracle (Acts 2:29-32 and 3435) foretold the very division depicted in Acts, but also spoke of revelation to the Gentiles and
“glory” for Israel. While the narrative depicted the mission to Gentiles, for Tiede, Acts 28 left
the “glory” unfinished. As a result, he read Acts 28 as both an ending and a beginning. 40
At present, R.C. Tannehill is a principal representative of the perspective that defends the
notion of a divided Israel and Luke’s hopes for the Jews. Tannehill, who acknowledged the
tragic irony of Jewish rejection of the gospel, also argued for a continued openness to Jews. For
Tannehill, the moment in Rome represented a turn away from a mission to the Jewish people and
leadership, but not an abandonment of hope for individual Jewish believers who may yet come to
faith and salvation. Furthermore, Tannehill argued that Paul’s encounter continues to defend and
emphasize his “Jewishness.” Just as the prophets of the Old Testament demanded a response of
the people and often received a mixed response, so Paul and other Christian preachers in Acts
met divided reactions. 41 For Tannehill, Acts depicted the promises of God as fulfilled and
continuing to be fulfilled. Tannehill pointed out that Paul’s Roman defense followed on repeated
claims to be attacked for his belief in the resurrection. This assertion did not concern individual
hopes for life after death, but a hope related to the expectation of the messianic kingdom. 42 In the
end, Tannehill characterized Luke-Acts depiction of the Jews as a tragic story of divided
response rather than a summons to hatred against Jews. And for all the tragedy of rejection, hope
in God’s promises and their fulfillment remains. If the Jerusalemites who took part in the death
of the Lord could hear and respond to the gospel in Acts 2, then hope remains for the reversal of
the admittedly tragic circumstances of Acts 28 43
T. L. Donaldson, “Moses Typology and the Sectarian Nature of Early Christian AntiJudaism: A Study in Acts 7,” JSNT 12 (1981): 44-45.
R. L. Brawley, “Ethical Borderlines between Rejection and Hope: Interpreting the Jews
in Luke-Acts,” CTM 27:6 (Dec. 2000): 420.
D. L. Tiede, “’Glory to Thy People Israel’: Luke-Acts and the Jews,” in Luke-Acts and
the Jewish People (ed. J. B. Tyson; Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988), 2629.
R. C. Tannehill, “Rejection by the Jews and Turning to Gentiles: The Pattern of Paul’s
Mission in Acts,” in Luke-Acts and the Jewish People (ed. J. B. Tyson; Minneapolis, Minn.:
Augsburg Publishing House, 1988), 88, 96, 100.
Ibid. 95
R. C. Tannehill, “Israel in Luke-Acts: A Tragic Story,” JBL 104/1 (1985): 75-77, 81,
Tannehill’s reading of Acts 28 as leaving the story unfinished with ongoing hopes for the
fulfillment of God’s promises raises the question of Luke’s eschatological perspective. This is a
question that has not been addressed by critics of Luke’s alleged anti-Jewish bias such as
Sanders. If an eschatological perspective is present in Acts 28, then it may have a direct bearing
on the question of whether Paul’s words constitute a definitive rejection of the Jews. We
therefore turn to the question of Luke’s eschatology and his presentation of Paul’s encounter
with the Jewish community in Rome.
Lukan eschatology and the question of Paul’s turn to the Gentiles
A. Does Luke-Acts concern itself with “future” eschatology?
The first necessary task is to address the nature of Luke’s eschatology. It differs
significantly from that of the Gospel of Mark. Whereas Mark has an almost apocalyptic urgency,
Luke goes beyond the story of Jesus’ life and mission to that of the Christian community. He
clearly has lengthened expectations regarding the end and elements of eschatological effects
realized in the life of the Church and believers (e.g. The action of the Holy Spirit, relationship to
the exalted Lord). In Luke’s treatment of the material found in Mark 13, some of the elements
that Mark presents as signs of the end take place within the narrative of Luke-Acts. 44 Because of
this shift from the more urgent eschatology of Mark, some commentators questioned whether
Luke had any future element in his eschatology. For example, E. Kasemann rejected any notion
of eschatology in Luke. He believed that Luke replaced the eschatology of the early Christian
community with salvation history. 45
While Luke’s writings do not share the same apocalyptic fervor of other New Testament
writings, they nevertheless do have an eschatological dimension. Luke had to face the fact that
the parousia might not be imminent, nevertheless he continued to expect it. 46
In some instances, Luke’s Gospel gave both a present and future sense to the Kingdom. 47
In the Passion Narratives of all three Synoptic Gospels, Jesus asserts that he will be seated at the
right hand of power. 48 However, Luke’s Jesus will do so from now on. Luke’s Gospel also
invests the resurrection with a different nuance. The resurrection proves that Jesus was already
Earthquake (Acts 16:26), famine (11:28), signs and wonders (4:30; 8:13) imprisonment
(4:3), trials (4:5, 26; 18:12), testimony (3:15). For a treatment of this question see R. B. Ward,
“Eschatology in Luke-Acts,” RQ 5/3 (1961), 147-156.
E. Käsemann, Essays on New Testament Themes (SBT 41; London: SCM, 1964), 28.
J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX (AB 28; New York: Doubleday,
1981), 21.
J. Nolland, “Salvation-History and Eschatology” in Witness to the Gospel: The
Theology of Acts, ed. I.H. Marshall and D. Peterson (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998), 658.
Mark 14:62, Matthew 26:64, Luke 22:69.
Messiah in his earthly life. 49 Thus in Luke’s worldview, the Kingdom has already arrived in
Jesus’ ministry even though the final consummation is yet to come.
Furthermore, in both the Gospel of Luke and in Acts, Luke sees events as the unfolding
of the plan of God. 50 The gift of the Spirit in Acts allows the dual reality of present and future to
proceed. Events follow the plan of God and move toward the future day of the Lord (Acts 2:1721) when the Lord Jesus will judge the world (Acts 17:31). Jesus has been received into heaven,
but will return in a time of restoration (Acts 3:21).
At the beginning of Acts, the disciples question Jesus about the parousia and are told that
they will not know the time or season (Acts 1:6-7). Meanwhile, they are to be his witnesses in
Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and until the end of the earth (1:8). 51 After Jesus ascends to heaven,
the disciples are chided for looking up to heaven and assured that the Lord will return (1:10-12).
As the narrative of Acts concludes in Rome, the witness has followed and completed this
geographic outline. Even so, the story has not yet been completed, as the return of the Lord
remains unrealized.
B. Paul’s encounter with the Roman Jewish community at the close of Acts
On three occasions in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul informs Jewish audiences that he
will turn to the Gentiles (14:46-47, 18:6, 28:28). The third of these warnings occurs in the
context of Paul’s encounter with the Jewish Leadership of Rome. As we have seen, some
understand the third warning at the end of Acts as Luke’s final and definitive rejection of the
Jewish people. But does Acts close the door on the Jewish people? Its narrative clearly upholds
the importance of the Jewish people in salvation. If Paul’s rhetoric is harsh in his last speech, can
the harshness be explained by a sense of eschatological urgency in his mission to both Jew and
Paul makes a number of speeches in Acts and to a variety of audiences. 52 Paul speaks to a
Jewish audience (13:16-41), in a Gentile setting (17:22-31), and to Christians (20:18-35). He also
makes a series of defense speeches in which he defends the Christian message and his ministry
(22:1,3-21; 24:10-21; 26:2-23).
I. H. Marshall, Luke: Historian and Theologian (Downer’s Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity
Press, 1970), 167.
This is demonstrated by Luke’s use of de/i to express divine necessity. Luke 2:49;
4:43; 9:22; 13:33; 17:25; 19:5; 21:9; 22:37; 24:7,26,44; Acts 1:16,21; 3:21; 4:12; 5:29; 9:6,16;
14:22; 15:5; 16:30; 17:3; 19:21; 20:35; 23:11; 24:19; 25:10; 27:24.
Fitzmyer argues that “the end of the earth” is an allusion to Rome. J. A. Fitzmyer, Acts,
Biblical scholarship has demonstrated conclusively that the speeches recounted in Acts
are the compositions of the author. They may be based on sources or even notes from the events
recounted, but their language and arrangement are Luke’s. Therefore they are helpful for
understanding Luke’s point of view.
This encounter with the leaders of the Jewish community in Rome is the last of Paul’s
speeches and enjoys the importance of a “last word.” When Paul arrives in Rome, he returns to
his missionary pattern of preaching first to the Jews (13:42-48; 18:5-7; 19:1-10). However, in
this case Paul cannot go to the synagogue as he is under house arrest (28:16). Instead, he invites
the leadership of the Roman Jews (tw/n VIoudai,wn prw,touj) 53 to visit him. Paul will make two
very different but related statements. Along with important summaries in verse 23 and verses 3031, these statements will leave a powerful last impression on the reader and reiterate some of
Luke’s most important interests.
Paul’s first set of remarks echoes the defense he has been making since chapter twentytwo. He begins with the address he has employed elsewhere in addressing Jewish audiences:
a;ndrej avdelfoi,, one that emphasizes his kinship with Jews 54 He goes on to speak of doing
nothing against “our people” or the customs of “our fathers” (v. 17). 55 Paul has repeatedly
stressed his fidelity to his people and to Judaism. 56 In this instance, his remarks sum up the
defense and serve as an exordium for this speech. 57 Paul also implicitly criticizes his opponents
in verse 17 when he explains that they handed him over to the Romans. 58
Paul then sums up what the reader has already witnessed. The Romans found no
legitimate charge against him. They correctly identified the dispute as an internal Jewish matter
(23:29; 25:19-20; 26:31-32). Paul next explains that the opponents who betrayed him to the
Romans forced his appeal to the Emperor. The appeal was not motivated by antipathy to Israel. 59
Nevertheless, it is possible that there is an implied threat in Paul’s remark. In Roman law,
making a false charge was a serious offense. More likely, Paul wants their attention for his
message and he wishes to explain his predicament in a positive light.
In verse 20, Paul explains that these events are the reason for his asking to see them.
Finally, he informs them that he is a prisoner 60 “for the sake of the hope of Israel.” Paul defended
himself in this way to the council of Pharisees and Sadducees (23:6; hope of the resurrection),
before Felix (24:15; hope in the resurrection) and to Agrippa (26:6-8 hope in the promise of
God). In the first two cases, Luke explicitly identifies hope with resurrection. In the third
Literally: “the first,” but Luke has employed this word before to indicate the leadership
(Luke 19:47; Acts 25:2).
Acts 13:26; 22:1; 23:6.
Here, lao,j recalls Luke’s usual designation for the people of God. Luke 1:68; 2:32;
7:29; 18:43; 20:1; Acts 2:47
Acts 22:3; 24:14-19; 25:8-10; 26:4-8; 26:22.
The speech is not strictly a defense speech, but his stress upon his Jewish credentials is
meant to gain the favor of his listeners.
For any subject people, the surrender of one of their own to the oppressor has
connotations of betrayal and treason. In fact, the Temple Scroll calls the surrender of a Jew to a
foreigner an act of treason (11QT 64:6-8).
Paul has previously denied any such antipathy (Acts 28:19; 22:3; 23:6; 24:14; 26:4-5).
Paul expresses this by speaking of the “chain” that binds him. Acts has spoken of this
fact a number of times (21:33; 22:5,29; 23:29; 24:27; 26:29,31). It may be a metaphorical
expression or it may be an expression of literal reality, that Paul is chained to his guard.
instance, the hope is more generalized in the promise of God (Although the following verse
indicates that resurrection is at issue). Finally in Rome, Paul simply refers to the hope of Israel.
Because of this context, some hold the understanding of hope strictly to the resurrection. 61 While
it is correct to note that a messianic interpretation of hope would be stretching the text, it remains
important to remember the meaning of resurrection in Luke. The Pharisee’s hope in the
resurrection is for some future resurrection of the just. Luke uses this hope to forge a link
between Judaism and Christianity, but his notion of resurrection is much larger and more
specific. In Luke-Acts, the resurrection is the event that confirms Jesus’ identity as the Messiah
and Son of God. The very specific event of this one man’s resurrection reveals his status and
gives believers the possibility of repentance, conversion, and salvation through faith in Jesus.
When Paul speaks of the hope of Israel in this context, his Roman Jewish audience may only
understand the Pharisaical hope for resurrection. Nevertheless, Luke’s Christian reader knows
that the resurrection of Jesus is the fulfillment of the much larger hope of Israel spoken of by
Moses and the prophets; a hope that looks forward to its final confirmation in the return of the
Risen Lord.
Following Paul’s initial remarks, there are five verses of intervening material. In verses
21-22, the leaders surprise the reader by with a degree of openness. Previously in Luke-Acts,
Paul has experienced some good response from Jewish people, 62 but leaders have generally been
hostile. In their response, they refer to the Way as a a[iresij (v. 22). Their phraseology reiterates
that the dispute is internal to Judaism. 63 Their reaction further develops after the brief summary
in verse 23. In verses 24-25a, the divided response to the Way so typical in Acts occurs. 64 Some
were convinced, 65 while others disagreed (v. 24). 66 The group disputes among themselves as
they prepare to leave (v. 25a). Those who read this passage as anti-Jewish point out that those
who respond positively do not convert, but are merely convinced. Admittedly, the language here
differs, but that does not change the fact of a mixed response to Paul’s message.
The summary verse (23) provides the occasion for the development in their initial
response to Paul. We learn that Paul has been testifying all day to the kingdom of God. He is
striving to convince them regarding Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the prophets. Strictly
speaking, this verse is not a part of the speech at hand. Yet, Luke has demonstrated before that he
does not waste words. These are topics already covered in Paul, and the summary suits his
purposes nicely.
Fitzmyer, Acts, 793.
Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 6:7; 21:20.
Johnson, 470.
Acts 2:12-13; 4:1-4; 5:12-17; 6:8-14; 9:21-25; 13:42-45; 14:1-2; 17:1-5; 18:4,12-17;
Acts 13:48; 17:4,12,34; 18:8.
Luke employs the imperfect for both verbs in this verse, implying an ongoing response.
J. D. G. Dunn, The Acts of the Apostles (Peterborough: Epworth Press, 1996), 354.
The verse is rich in content. It has seven vital points in common with Paul’s speeches:
witness, kingdom, God, Jesus, law, Moses, prophets. 67 Paul is both living out the command of
the Lord in 1:8 and 9:15 and the content of his preaching (the kingdom of God) is identical to
that of Jesus (1:6). Paul is a true follower of Jesus. 68 The verse links the kingdom of God to
Jesus. This twin emphasis is found at the beginning of Acts in 1:3, 6. 69 For Luke, Jesus is the
successor to the Davidic line. 70 The expression basilei,a tou/ qeou/ is not unique to Luke, but it is
very common in Luke-Acts. 71 Luke also gives the phrase unique meaning. Whereas in Matthew,
the kingdom refers to the content of Jesus’ message, Luke interprets the kingdom as the sending
of Jesus. The kingdom is already historically present in Jesus (Luke 11:20; 17:21) and for the
Church it is present in Jesus through the Spirit (Acts 1:6-8). Even so, the use of kingdom
language also recalls the unfinished nature of the gospel. Its urgency, in fact, derives from the
fact that an end will come even if the timing remains veiled.
After the events of the summary elicit a mixed response, Paul shifts from defense to
indictment. In a striking change from 13:26 (to us [Jews] the word of salvation has been sent),
Paul quotes Isaiah 6:9-10. The quote is taken from Isaiah’s inaugural vision where he expresses
fear of going to the people. This text became a part of Christian apologetic to explain the scandal
of Jewish rejection of Jesus. 72 The citation in the text follows the LXX closely, but makes an
important change. The imperative verbs in Isaiah become aorist verbs in Luke. 73 The effect of
the verbal change is that the blame for the people’s dullness, deafness, and blindness rests with
the people themselves rather than the command of God. 74 While a number of commentators have
cited the use of this quote as a demonstration of Luke’s particular antipathy towards the Jews, its
general use in early Christian settings demonstrate that it is not particularly Lukan. Instead, Luke
is using a common tradition to make a crucial point. Furthermore, the original Isaiah passage
never intended to condemn or exclude the Jewish people, but to return them to proper
relationship with the Lord.
After citing Isaiah, Paul makes his third and most dramatic announcement (v. 28) that the
message is now for the Gentiles (previously in 13:46-47 and 18:6): the “salvation of God” has
been sent to the Gentiles. In Acts, Luke more often uses the feminine swthri,a when speaking of
salvation. In 28:28, he uses the neuter phrase to. swth,rion tou/ qeou/. This is another allusion to
Isaiah (LXX 40:5). The allusion to Isaiah indicates the new mode of salvation in Jesus. As Isaiah
M. L. Soards, The Speeches in Acts (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/ John Knox Press,
1994), 131.
R.C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts (Vol. 2; Minneapolis, Minn.:
Fortress, 1990), 346.
In fact, this key verse may be an inclusio with the earlier mention. Tannehill, Narrative
Unity, 352.
Luke 1:32,33,69-70; Acts 2:25-36; 13:22-23,32-37.
Forty six occurrences in Luke and eight in Acts.
Luke 8:10; Mark 4:12; 8:17,18; Matthew 13:11-15; John 12:39-40; Romans 1:8.
For example: God commands Isaiah to make the people’s hearts dull while Luke
describes the people’s hearts as dull.
B. Witherington, The Acts of the Apostle : A Socio-rhetorical Commentary (Grand
Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998), 804.
prophesied, salvation now has a universal character. This universalism has been affirmed
repeatedly in Luke-Acts. 75 The reader also knows that this last prophecy of Paul has begun to be
fulfilled in the course of the narrative and had indeed been fulfilled by the time of Luke’s writing
of Luke-Acts.
Still, does this important affirmation of the Gentile mission represent an end to Paul’s
pattern of outreach to Jews? After all, the two previous assertions did not effect any change in
the ongoing interest in bringing the gospel to the Jews. In an interesting analysis of Luke’s
editing of his Markan source, B. Kinman argued forcefully for the ongoing interest of Luke in
Jewish response to the gospel. In Mark, the cursing of the fig tree is often understood to be a
definite rejection of the Jerusalem leadership (Mark 11:12-14, 20-21). Luke omits the passage
and Kinman points to a Lukan miracle involving a fig tree that allows for repentance and the
reversal (Luke 13:6-9). 76 Kinman believed that the pleading for repentance and the hope for a
time of refreshment found in Acts 3:20-21 represent further evidence for a Lukan eschatological
perspective on a future for Israel in relationship to the Lord. 77
At the end of Acts (vv 30-31), 78 Paul is in his lodging. With complete openness and
without hindrance he proclaims to all the kingdom of God and teaches about the “Lord Jesus
Christ” (v 31b). Again, these verses do not form part of Paul’s speech, but they are a very
powerful summary of Paul’s message. At the very beginning of Acts, Luke referred to his Gospel
as an account of what the Lord did and taught (1:1) and how the Lord spoke to his followers after
the resurrection of the kingdom of God (1:3). Here at the close of Acts, Paul speaks of the
kingdom as well. Paul also teaches, but he teaches about the Lord Jesus Christ. In Paul’s ministry
and speeches, proclaiming the kingdom has become proclaiming Jesus Lord. Although the reader
knows that Paul will yet go to a martyr’s death, Luke ends with a note of victory for the witness
has reached the end of the earth (1:8) and it is offered boldly and openly (v 31). 79
The ambivalence of Luke’s opinion of Judaism raises a question regarding Paul’s words
to the Roman Jews. Does Paul mean to say that salvation is now denied to the Jews and offered
to the Gentiles? Is this their last chance to repent and believe? Is Luke suggesting that their
rejection of Jesus has resulted in God’s rejection of them? Certainly a number of scholars have
suggested that this is in fact the case.
Luke 2:11,14-30,30-32; 3:6; 4:24-27; 24:47; Acts 1:8; 10:1-11:18; 13:47.
B. Kinman, “Lucan Eschatology and the Missing Fig Tree,” JBL 113/4 (1994): 672-
Ibid. 677.
It is generally agreed that v. 29 is an addition of the Western text and is therefore
omitted from our discussion.
This notion of preaching boldly/openly (parrhsi,aj) is a common one in Acts (2:29;
4:13,29,31; 9:27-28; 13:46; 14:3; 18:26; 19:8; 22:26).
Others have argued for the possibility that salvation for the Jews persists in Luke’s
thought, and that Acts depicts a reconstituted Israel consisting of Jews who accept Jesus along
with the faithful Gentiles. For Jervell, Luke understands the rejection of Jesus by some Jews as
the historical mixed reaction of God’s people to the summons to faith. 80 The turning here in
chapter twenty eight is not from the Jewish people themselves, but from those who will not open
their hearts, eyes, and ears to the salvation present in Jesus.
The narrative of Acts, for all its strong rhetoric provides no firm evidence that Paul’s
words here are any different from previous declarations to turn to the Gentiles and return to
preach again in the Jewish setting. In fact, the only real evidence in the text suggests otherwise as
it makes clear that the story ends with Paul open to “all.” Luke’s primary focus in these matters
has been upon God’s faithfulness to promises. The message of the fulfillment of God’s promises
has been offered first to Israel consistently. Paul maintains this pattern to the very end of the two
volumes. The two missions, one to Israel and the other to the Gentiles, are not contrasted as
“either/or.” Rather, the responses of people to Jesus are contrasted in both communities, and in
this there must be a decision one way or the other. 81
Until the very end of Acts, Paul’s relationship to Judaism remains a critical concern. As
such it is critical to Luke as well. Luke has taught the reader that Christianity can only be
understood in relation to the law and the prophets. Significantly, the quote from Isaiah comes
from the beginning of his ministry, not the end. As Acts ends, Paul’s ministry is not at an end
either. Acts does not shut the door of salvation to the Jews. In the final verses of Acts, Paul
remains in his lodgings and receives all (v 30) who come to him. This all must mean both Jews
and Gentiles. 82 Luke has widened salvation to include Gentiles, but he has not narrowed it to
exclude Jews. The mixture of openness and closure here at the end of Acts is not exclusionary.
The ambiguity is rooted in the experience of the Christian believers who struggled to understand
why many in Israel rejected the fulfillment of the promise in Jesus.
In the larger context of Paul’s speeches in Acts, the defense of Paul’s relationship to
Judaism is a defense of the relationship between faith in Jesus and Judaism. Luke has carefully
taught the reader that Paul is authentically Jewish. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah sent by the Lord
to save the people of Israel. He is the answer to the hope of Israel for salvation from death. He is
the anointed successor to David who restores Israel as God promised. He is the One who brings
God’s kingdom to life and so fulfills the eschatological hope of Israel that God would intervene
and deliver the people. Indeed, “the hope of Israel” (v 20) is as much a title for Jesus as an
allusion to the resurrection.
This eschatological context, insufficiently addressed by the work of Sanders, places
Paul’s words and actions in a very different light. Luke-Acts has repeatedly emphasized its
concern for the redemption of Israel. 83 The fact that some or even most of the Jews have not yet
J. Jervell, The Theology of the Acts of the Apostles (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1996), 41-69.
Witherington, 806.
Tannehill, Narrative Unity, 351.
Luke 2:25, 38; 19:11; 23:50-51; 24:21; Acts 1:8; 15:16; 24:15; 26:6, 23.
accepted the truth of this does not preclude a possible future change of circumstances. In fact, the
Lukan narrative gives evidence to the contrary. It repeatedly emphasizes the reversal of fortunes
and circumstances. The canticles of the Lukan infancy accounts praise God’s mysterious
reversals of human sin and hubris. Above all, in the resurrection, God reversed the verdict of
human beings upon Jesus. That watershed moment has brought manifold reversals as the lame
and the outcast have been restored. 84 How could it be that this narrative would then definitively
abandon the hope of reversal for the people of God? Instead, the reader has learned to expect that
God’s power to change hearts and circumstances will be vindicated. The very quote from Isaiah
implies the same as it too addressed a stubbornness that would be reversed.
While Luke emphasized the authentically Jewish nature of the message about Jesus, he
brought to his message the faith of a Christian believer. In the light of Jesus’ resurrection, Luke
and believers like him saw an expansion of the meaning of the promise to Israel. They looked to
the Law of Moses and the prophets (v. 23) in the broadest sense to interpret the events witnessed.
In the resurrection, the Risen Lord revealed to the people that he was Son of God, Messiah, and
Lord even in his earthly ministry. For this reason, Paul and Luke can call him “the Lord Jesus
Christ” (v. 31). This mixture of Lord and Messiah, odd to Jewish ears, makes sense to those who
call upon the Risen Lord with both. They look to the Lord who remains active in their lives and
ministry and relate to him as Israel related to the Lord in the Old Testament.
In Paul’s encounter with the leadership, Luke referred twice to the kingdom of God and
linked it to the identity of Jesus (vv 23,30-31). When the OT speaks of the kingship of YHWH, it
speaks of eschatological hope in God’s promise and ability to offer salvation to the people. 85
Luke has now invested that same eschatological hope in Jesus. This eschatological hope has
taken on a new urgency. The hidden has been made plain, and all, Jew or Gentile, must now
respond. Furthermore, the geographical outline of 1:8 has been completed. That completion
implies that the return of the Lord promised in 1:11 is at hand. Even if Paul’s last words in Acts
are harsh, their harshness does not reject the Jewish people. The harshness relates to the urgency
and the importance of the decision that each person must make. If the words communicate grief
or even anger, such emotions are inescapably mixed with hope. Isaiah’s accusation of those who
refused to see or hear did not signal the end of the Jewish people. Nor does Luke’s application of
the same words signal their rejection. Instead, the words are a final appeal to prepare for the
return of the Lord and the day of judgment. Luke has not ended his account with an anti-Jewish
message, but a preaching of the kingdom and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ to any and all
who would listen. Far from being anti-Jewish, the end of Luke gives evidence of an
eschatological hope for the redemption of Israel even at a moment when the mission to the Jews
had largely been eclipsed by the success of the mission to the Gentiles.
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